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Mandala of Identity and Intersectionality _ Simple

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This tool is a "work in progress" exercise to reflect on own identity and contextualize experiences of one-ground as well as intersectional discrimination in the context where people live. Background theoretical inputs (intersectionality, Mandala)

Aims of the tool

To offer to participants a creative tool to:
- deconstruct the idea of identity as a monolith;
- reflect on different elements belonging to their own identity
- spend time for inner self-reflection and introspection
- put in relation their identity/identities and different roles played in daily life and expectations from societies
- develop self-awareness, sensitiveness and empathy
- reflect on forms of discrimination occurred on one ground or intersecting grounds
- find commonalities with other advocacy groups along the lines of different and intersecting grounds

Description of the tool

The Mandala of Identity can be used as an alternative to the traditional models of culture and identity (iceberg, onion, etc), or as further step in the description of them.

1) You can start providing participants with a short presentation on identity. For this Mandala I chose postcolonial literature, literature on intersectionality and Mandala as a tool for introspection. It goes without saying that also other theories can be integrated and adapted, depending on the context, group of participants and aims of the seminar.

2) Prepare a simple and uncoloured “Mandala Model” on a flipchart, drawing in it 4 symmetric sections corresponding to a) nation/race/ethnic origin, b) gender/sex, gender identity c) faith/religion/belief, d) ….the fourth can be open to participants’ suggestion (each participant can choose one ground that comes spontaneously during the exercise). The four sections have a common core at the centre of the Mandala, where participants can draw intersecting grounds (maybe all of them intersect or maybe just some of them). In each section can be mentioned many different related issues. Suggest to participants that the Mandala Model shows just the structure of the exercise, but they are completely free for the rest: to use the colours they prefer, to choose the shape of their Mandala, to add some details which may arise during the exercise, to add sections and question the boundaries between categories...

* The idea to use a Mandala divided in just 4 parts aims at stimulating participants' reflections and discussions on the usefulness (or not) of fixed categories describing identity (disability, gender identity, ethnicity, etc....). Categories can be used as a descriptive instrument or can be rejected as insufficient or even dangerous (see tips for facilitators). This can open up debates on how to trascend the boundaries of these fixed lines.
* The core of the Mandala is where intersections are displayed and how different grounds interplay with each other and mutually construct each other: does each ground work in the same way in each participant's experience?

3) Ask the participants to prepare their own Mandala of Identity, in a place they feel comfortable, outside or inside. You can also prepare some candles and soft meditation music.
It would be great to prepare participants with a short meditation exercise, for example inviting them to close their eyes and go through their life, giving them some suggestions (childhood, toys, landscapes).

4) The participants complete individually their Mandala of Identity using as many remembering, connections, emotions, etc as they can. (45' minutes)

5) Debriefing:
Explain participants that they are free to decide what they want to share of their Mandalas.
Start this part reminding participants to feel free to share what they choose and to keep secret some parts they are not ready to share.

6. Groups (30' minutes)
Participants share their Mandalas in pairs or in smaller groups and exchange them, putting questions to each other. You can ask them to answer different questions such as: was it relaxing/challenging to complete the Mandala? Discovered something new? Was it difficult to remain in the limitation of symmetric areas of the Mandala or some sections would need more/less space? Are there intersections among different fields or are there separations? Are the colour reflecting these differences/analogies? How is the centre of the Mandala (uniform, diverse, multicolo)? Are there many intersecting grounds in the core? Did experiences of discrimination related to one or more grounds came up from the exercise? How they impact on self-esteem and agency to react against them?
Further step: which coalitions can be built on these grounds with other young people/Youth NGOs?

P.S. You can also facilitate a discussion in plenary based on the previous questions.

Final note for trainers: Even if it is a creative tool, the Mandala needs to be put in a safe atmosphere of sensitiveness, respect and trust. For this reason, it would be better to schedule this activity after a team building exercise, depending on the focus of the TC or seminar.


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SALTO cannot be held responsible for the inappropriate use of these training tools. Always adapt training tools to your aims, context, target group and to your own skills! These tools have been used in a variety of formats and situations. Please notify SALTO should you know about the origin of or copyright on this tool.

Tool overview

This tool is for

This tool is designed for individual work and can be used both with small groups and in bigger ones. It can be scheduled before sessions on networking or advocacy, to explore how to organise joint actions and projects.

and addresses

Social Inclusion, Anti-Racism, Intercultural Learning, Personal Development, Gender issues

It is recommended for use in:

Training and Networking
Transnational Youth Initiatives

Materials needed:

A3 coloured or White papers (one for participant: participants are free to choose White or coloured ones), many coloured pencils, scissors, glue, tape, magazines with a lot of pictures (that participants can cut and use in the Mandala).


90 minutes

Behind the tool

The tool was created by

Barbara Giovanna Bello

The tool has been experimented in

Since 2006 in several seminars. Training Course "Crossroads: Young People facing multiple discrimination. Progetto Giovani Padova (Italy), 2006

The tool was published to the Toolbox by

Barbara Giovanna BELLO (on 21 May 2007)

and last modified

17 December 2008

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